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SD Cops Drove Criminologist to Suicide

SAN DIEGO (CN) - San Diego police harassed a mentally ill retired criminologist to the point that he committed suicide, his widow claims in court.

Rebecca Brown, 61, sued the City of San Diego, police cold-case homicide detective Michael Lambert, and San Diego district attorney investigator Sandra Oplinger in state court on July 16 on behalf of her late husband, Kevin Brown, who was 62 when he died.

Kevin worked as a criminologist in the crime lab at the San Diego Police Department from 1982 until his retirement in 2002. Though a good worker, he was shy and "struggled with depression, anxiety disorder and insomnia" his entire life, the complaint says.

Ten years after retirement, Kevin became the prime suspect in a cold-case murder investigation, his widow says in the complaint.

Kevin was working at the crime lab when it processed evidence from the murder of Claire Hough, a 14-year-old girl whose mutilated body was discovered on Torrey Pines State Beach on Aug. 24, 1984. She had been beaten and strangled to death, and one of her breasts had been cut off.

"In late 2012, SDPD analyst David Cornacchia reported that blood stains on Claire Hough's Levi's jeans and of the torn zipper flap on her jeans contained DNA which belonged to Ronald Clyde Tatro," the complaint states.

Cornacchia is not a party to the complaint.

Tatro was a known sex offender with an extensive criminal resume, including rape, attempted rape and the murder of area prostitute Carol DeFliece. He died in a 2011 boating accident in Tennessee, according to the complaint.

Kevin Brown's sperm was also found on a vaginal swab taken from the victim, but this was likely the result of cross contamination in the crime lab because no sperm was recovered from Hough's body, the complaint states.

Though Lambert knew about the possibility of cross-contamination and had blood samples that connected Tatro to the murder, he "decided to use unconstitutional methods to investigate Kevin Brown for a crime he did not commit, and to attempt to connect Kevin Brown with Tatro, whom Kevin had never met nor seen," the complaint says.

Rebecca Brown claims Lambert misrepresented the facts to obtain a search warrant for the couple's house and car, by neglecting to mention that drying evidence in an open space was a common practice in the 1980s; that criminologists commonly used their own blood and semen samples to verify results; and by painting Kevin Brown as a sexual pervert because he went to strip clubs as a young single man and was once seen leaving a porn shop.

Because the case had the potential to embarrass the police department and impugn the reliability of the cold-case homicide unit's analysis, Lambert chose to take advantage of Kevin Brown's mental illness to stress him out and get the results Lambert wanted rather than conduct a fair investigation, according to the complaint.

Among other things, Rebecca Brown says Lambert "interviewed witnesses in a misleading and suggestive manner;" left mitigating testimony about Kevin Brown's gentle nature out of the search warrant application; illegally seized thousands of items not included in the already overbroad search warrant, including photos of Rebecca's siblings, her childhood memorabilia, and vintage newspapers from the 1950s; refused to return these items because Lambert knew Kevin Brown's mental well-being hinged on their return; and told Brown that Lambert intended to arrest him for the murder of Claire Hough while knowing full well that Brown was a suicide risk, according to the complaint.

Rebecca claims Kevin's anxiety and fear skyrocketed because, though innocent, he believed he would be abused in jail due to his former profession.

His mental state deteriorated and he became so terrified of being falsely accused of the crime that he committed suicide on Oct. 20, 2014, by hanging himself from a tree at Cuyamaca State Park, the complaint says.

The day after his death, defendant Oplinger submitted a search warrant application for the couple's vacation home in Julian that was as riddled with lies, omissions and misleading statements as Lambert's previous search warrant, according to the complaint.

Making matters worse, Rebecca says the police department soon afterward issued a press release stating that they had been on the cusp of arresting Brown when he died and that his suicide solved the case, though this was not true.

If not for Lambert's harassment, Kevin Brown would still be alive, the complaint states.

A spokesman for the San Diego City Attorney declined to comment.

Rebecca Brown seeks compensatory, special and punitive damages for 10 causes of action, including wrongful death, intentional infliction of emotional distress, conversion and civil rights violations.

She is represented by Eugene Iredale with Iredale and Yoo, and was not immediately available for comment.

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